PayPal Decides it is the Morality Police

A very disturbing development has been happening behind the scenes at eBook sellers across the Internet. Paypal has forbidden them to sell erotic materials that they have decided are too weird or wrong. This includes “barely legal” in which both characters are consenting adults, but one is 18 or 19. It also includes “pseudo incest” in which characters sleep with people that they are not blood relation to, but step relation to. Both of these activities are legal. But PayPal has decided they are wrong.

So far that doesn’t touch what I write, but you know what? It will. Paypal might not know about devotees yet, but I’ll bet when they find out, that will be on their list of unacceptable kinks.

Since when does a financial institution decide what people can and cannot read?

Here are some excellent articles on the subject: The Hypocrisy of Morality

“And for those of you who think it’s okay to take away people’s freedoms because you don’t agree with them, perhaps you should pick up the book Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. That book actually disturbed me far more than Nabakov’s Lolita, which is saying a lot. I never want to live in a world where someone else can tell me what I can and cannot read! Do you?

What do you think? Do readers have the right to buy whatever reading material for their eReader they want? The numbers seem to dictate that people enjoy these “forbidden” types of erotic stories. Do you feel like a financial institution has the right to tell businesses what they are and are not allowed to publish or distribute on their shelves? How wrong is it to provide written fantasies for people to read so they can explore a darker side of sexuality within legal boundaries?” Why Frogs Boil

“Paypal and Amazon are giants in their particular industry. If they are starting to deem things “unacceptable” (and please remember this is in the realm offiction!)it amounts to de facto censorship, even if it doesn’t technically violate the first amendment.
Cen·sor [sen-ser]noun:
any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.”

Parts of the actual letter I just received from Smashwords which will require me to remove some of my titles for sale on their site:

PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned
categories of books…As you may have heard, in the last couple weeks PayPal began aggressively enforcing
a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of “obscene” content…On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords
with an ultimatum.  As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement,
PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened
to deactivate our PayPal services….Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me.  It is with some
reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at
Smashwords.  Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when
we allow others to control what we think and write.  Fiction is fantasy.  It’s 
not real.  It unfolds in our imagination.  I’ve always believed fiction writers 
and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations 
in the privacy of their own mind.  From an imagination perspective, erotica is
little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals
(1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a
horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim.
All fiction takes us somewhere.  We read fiction to be moved, and to feel.
Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed.  A reader should have 
the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved…We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica.  We think our
authors should be allowed to publish erotica.  Erotica, despite the attacks it
faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection.  Erotica allows readers
to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore
in the real world. The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest
sex organ is the brain.  If it were not the case, none of us would be here.
Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple.  Topics that are
perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica.  That’s not
fair.  Our decisions today are imperfect.”

This is a scary time and I don’t believe that PayPal should be able to get away with this. The amount of power they have scares me a great deal.



  1. I had not heard about this – interesting. It reminds me about how a while ago Amazon got in trouble b/c it decided to start deleting erotica kindle editions b/c it decided some of them were “inappropriate” – I think most fell into the same category as the ones PayPal is censoring. What made it worse is they did it without notifying the authors AND they deleted the copies that people had purchased from their kindles as well. I think they ended up backpeddling because there was so much backlash, but still.

    As long as it’s not illegal, I don’t think Paypal has any right to censor.

    • RuthMadison
      Feb 28, 2012

      Yep, there was a similar scuffle with Amazon. Pretty soon you won’t be able to buy this type of material anywhere. And that’s sad. I feel like, if it’s fiction than it’s not illegal activity. I might have an extreme view on that, but the important thing here is that it is not the place of credit card companies to decide what people can read! Smashwords sent another lovely email this morning. They’re working hard to get Paypal to back down at least a little. Suggestions they made were: “What can you do to move things forward? First, direct your attention where it
      matters most. Contact your credit card company or congressperson and tell them
      you want financial services companies out of the business of censoring what writers
      and readers are free to imagine with fiction. Blog about it. Tweet about it.
      Contact your favorite blogger and encourage them to raise awareness. Start
      petitions and tell financial institutions you want their censors out of your
      head. Contact the media. The media, with your urging, has the power to shine
      a bright light on the dangerous slipperly slope of censorship by financial institutions.”

  2. dose
    Feb 29, 2012

    Well, officially they are a private company, and allowed to publish or not publish or sell or not sell whatever they please so long as it falls within legal bounds. What they are doing amounts in many ways to censorship, but there are other ways of looking at it.

    Consider that, as a business, they may not desire the reputation that comes with selling material which skirts too close to the edge of legal. There can be a number of reasons for this. To begin with how do they verify the validity content they are profiting from? Do they have people reading each story, or complicated algorithims which scan each text for a series of words, passing offensive units on for human verification?

    At a certain point it can become very difficult, especially when we are dealing with fiction. It can be easier to set somewhat stringent standards. As I’m sure you’re aware, it can be quite bad for any business to be in any way linked to profiting from pedophilia.

    This obviously can extend into other realms, and you’re very right that devotees may be targeted as well. Do dev novels draw enough salt to withstand the possible backlash?

    I don’t know, but I think it won’t really matter. They may decide to one day run a squeaky clean company, but I feel that for now dev fiction, which I have never known to stray outside the bounds of legality, is small enough to fall under the radar.

    Yes some people finds devs offensive, but to be honest, writing, is generally the least coercive (and thus most preferred) expression of dev desire. It would be silly for any group to protest dev fiction, when they can easily protest numerous other sites that are complicit in much more damaging behavior.

    • RuthMadison
      Feb 29, 2012

      I feel that censorship is wrong. They are certainly in their legal rights, but I still think they are wrong. I don’t even care if devs are targeted or not, I think it’s important to defend people’s right to read whatever fiction they want to. I don’t think it makes sense for credit card companies to get into the business of deciding what people can read.

  3. Ron Celano
    Mar 4, 2012

    I believe there is more going on here than meets the eye. Who is to gain from PayPal’s decision. Not PayPal, certainly not the online publishers and seemingly not the credit card companies. See what I think here:

    • RuthMadison
      Mar 5, 2012

      Interesting take on it and even more frightening. Sigh. What can we do? That’s what I want to know. I’m going to follow Mark’s advice, but I don’t know what else to do to stop the censorship.


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